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  • 9 Oct 2020 2:55 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Disease

    It is remarkable that, totally unused to any such conditions, wet, cold, poorly fed, overcrowded, storm-tossed, bruised and beaten, anxious, and with no homes to welcome them, exposed to new hardships and dangers on landing, worn and exhausted, any of the Mayflower’s company survived. It certainly cannot be accounted strange that infectious diseases, once started among them, should have run through their ranks like fire, taking both old and young. Nor is it strange that—though more inured to hardship and the conditions of sea life—with the extreme and unusual exposure of boat service on the New England coast in mid-winter, often wading in the icy water and living aboard ship in a highly infected atmosphere, the crew of seamen should have succumbed to disease in almost equal numbers with the colonists. Edward Thompson, Jasper More, and James Chilton died within a month of the arrival at Cape Cod (and while the ship lay in that harbour), and following the axiom of vital statistics that “for each death two are constantly sick,” there must have been some little (though not to say general) sickness on the Mayflower when she arrived at Cape Cod. It would, in view of the hardship of the voyage, have been very remarkable if this had not been the case. It would have been still more remarkable if the ill-conditioned, thin-blooded, town-bred “servants” and apprentices had not suffered first and most. It is significant that eight out of nine of the male servants died in the first four months. It was impossible that scurvy should not have been prevalent with both passengers and crew.

  • 8 Oct 2020 2:45 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Food (continued)

    “Equinoctial Distrubances” continued.  In the absence of cooking facilities, it became necessary to rely chiefly upon food that did not require to be prepared by heat, such as biscuit (hard bread), butter, cheese (“Holland cheese” was a chief staple with the Pilgrims), “haberdyne” (or dried salt codfish), smoked herring, smoked (“cured”) ham and bacon, “dried neat’s tongues,” preserved and “potted” meats (a very limited list in that day), fruits, etc. Mush, oatmeal, pease-puddings, pickled eggs, sausage meats, salt beef and pork, bacon, “spiced beef,” such few vegetables as they had (chiefly cabbages, turnips, and onions—there were no potatoes in that day), etc., could be cooked in quantity, when the weather permitted, and would then be eaten cold.  Except as dried or preserved fruits, vegetables (notably onions), limes, lemon juice, and the free use of vinegar counteracted (rather feebly), their food was a distinctive stimulant of scorbutic disease and tuberculosis, which constant exposure to cold and wet and the overcrowded state of the ship could but increase and aggravate.  More about diseases tomorrow.

  • 7 Oct 2020 3:01 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Storm continues; Food

    William Bradford is the authority for the statement that with the “governor” of the ship’s company were chosen “two or three assistants . . . to order [i.e., regulate] the people by the way [i.e., on the passage] and see to the disposition of the provisions.”  The latter duty must have been a difficult and wearisome one.  From what we have seen of the poverty of the ship’s cooking facilities (especially for so large a company), it would be hopeless to expect to cook food in any quantity, except when all conditions were favourable, and then only slowly and with much difficulty. From the fact that so many would require food at practically the same hours of the day, it is clear that there must have been distribution of food (principally uncooked) to groups or families, who, with the aid of servants (when available), must each have prepared their own meals, cooking as occasion and opportunity permitted, after the manner of the “steerage passengers” in later days. There appears to have been only one cook for the officers and crew of the ship, and his hands were doubtless full with their demands. His service to the passengers must have been very slight. That “the cook” is named as one of the ship’s crew who died in Plymouth harbour (New England) is all the knowledge we have concerning him.  The use of and dependence upon tea and coffee, now so universal, and at sea so seemingly indispensable, was then unknown, beer supplying their places, and this happily did not have to be prepared with fire. “Strong waters” (Holland gin) and to some extent “aqua vitae” (brandy) were relied upon for the (supposed) maintenance of warmth. Our Pilgrims were by no means total abstainers, and sadly bewailed being deprived of their beer when the supply failed. They also made general and habitual (moderate) use of wine and spirits, though they sharply interdicted and promptly punished their abuse.

  • 6 Oct 2020 3:16 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    First Birth

    Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins, one of the three pregnant women who boarded the Mayflower over a month ago, the wife of Stephen Hopkins, was delivered of a son, who, on account of the circumstances of his birth, was named Oceanus.  This was the first birth aboard the ship during the voyage, and the only birth on the high seas.  Giving a child a unique name like Oceanus was not unheard of, even in the 17th century when most names were either inherited, Biblical, or came from a king or queen. The White family named their son, born on board the Mayflower shortly after its arrival in the New World, Peregrine, meaning “traveller” or, significantly, “pilgrim.”  When Stephen Hopkins was a castaway in Bermuda in 1609, the two children born there were named Bermudas (a boy, son of Edward Eason) and Bermuda (a girl, daughter of John Rolfe and Sarah Hacker, who died -- both mother and daughter -- several months later).  We have no further record of Oceanus Hopkins, and must conclude that he died before May 1627, because he is not included in the division of cattle of that month.  On board the Mayflower, Oceanus joined his brother Giles (13) and sister Constance (14), the children of Stephen Hopkins by his first wife Mary, and Damaris (2), by his second wife Elizabeth.  Stephen and Mary had an additional daughter Elizabeth (b. c. 1604), but William Bradford in his list of passengers names only two children by this couple who came on the Mayflower, and there is no record of Elizabeth after 1613.  Only Constance and Giles reached adulthood and had issue; Stephen Hopkins and Elizabeth Fisher had five more children in Plymouth, of whom two reached adulthood and had children of their own.  The Damaris Hopkins who came on the Mayflower must have died before about 1628, because Stephen and Elizabeth Hopkins named their daughter born in that year Damaris, indicating that the elder daughter of that name had already died.  Of Stephen Hopkins’ ten children by his two wives, only four are known to have reached adulthood and now have descendants, in contrast to the more prolific Howlands.

    The verifiers at the GSMD Library in Plymouth keep a running list of the most astonishing names they run across, and the competition for the most unusual name of the week is fairly stiff.  I won the prize one week when I discovered a man named “Henchman Soule” (perhaps the modification of a Dutch name, but still rather humorous to modern ears).  Longtime Harvard chaplain Peter Gomes enjoyed collecting these sorts of surprising (or at least ambiguous) names, and frequently pointed out that the not unusual seventeenth century girl’s name “Experience” (indicating that her parents hoped she would have an experience of God’s presence and providence) would mean something rather different in the late twentieth century.

  • 5 Oct 2020 2:40 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    John Howland falls overboard and is saved

    A succession of strong westerly gales.  In one of the heaviest storms, while lying at hull, Bradford writes that “a lusty young man called John Howland,” an indentured servant of John Carver, apparently grew restless down below.  After almost two months as a passenger ship, the Mayflower was no longer “sweet smelling,” and Howland wanted some air.  He climbed the ladder “above the gratings [the latticed covers to the hatches] and was with the seele [i.e., roll] of the ship thrown into the sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halliards which hung overboard and ran out at length; yet he held his hold, though he was sundry fathoms under water, till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boathook and other means got into the ship again and his life saved.  He was something ill with it.”  When Bradford wrote about the incident of “the boy who fell off the Mayflower,” over ten years had passed, John had married Elizabeth Tilley (also a passenger), and they were well on their way to producing ten children and an astonishing eighty-eight grandchildren.  The narrator of Ric Burns’ PBS film The Pilgrims speaks eloquently: “John Howland’s survival was as fortuitous and random as his near fatal plunge.  In the New World he would thrive, work off his indenture, become a cornerstone of the colony, and marry a pretty young woman named Elizabeth Tilley … from whom over the next four centuries an estimated two million Americans would descend, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joseph Smith, Franklin Roosevelt, Humphrey Bogart, Chevy Chase, and both George Bushes, father and son,” William Jennings Bryan, both of President Theodore Roosevelt’s wives, Henry Cabot Lodge, Cecil B. DeMille, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Ted Danson, Christopher Lloyd, John Lithgow, the Baldwin brothers, Samuel J. Ervin (the US Senator [Jr.] and the NC Supreme Court Justices [III and IV])  … and myself.  As I continually point out, such is the role of contingency in history -- we cannot even imagine history, or America, without these people.

  • 4 Oct 2020 2:57 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Storm continues

    Yesterday's storm continues.  Bradford wrote, “In sundry of these stormes, the winds were so fierce and the seas so high, as the ship could not bear a knot of sail, but was forced to hull drift under bare poles for divers days together.”  Nathaniel Philbrick (Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War [New York: Viking, 2006] 31-32), however, adds this description of the voyage of the Mayflower II in 1957: “At times, the motion in the high aft poop cabin became so violent that Captain Alan Villiers—one of the most experienced blue-water sailors in the world—feared that he might be flung out of his bunk. What this ship would do in survival conditions was a matter of deep concern to Villiers and his men.  Toward the end of the voyage, a storm set in, forcing Villiers to do as Master Jones had done 337 years before. As the motion of the ship in the giant waves became intolerable, he decided he had no option but to lie ahull. The sails were furled, and everything on deck was tied down. Then, with considerable trepidation, Villiers ordered that the helm be secured to leeward. ‘This was the crucial test,’ Villiers wrote. ‘Would she lie that way, more or less quietly, with the windage of the high poop keeping her shoulder to the sea? Or would she just wallow hopelessly in the great troughs, threatening to roll her masts out? We didn’t know. No one had tried the maneuver in a ship like that for maybe two centuries.’  As soon as the ship’s bow swung into the wind, a remarkable change came over the Mayflower II. Even though she was under bare poles in a howling gale, her slablike topsides functioned as a kind of wooden storm sail, magically steadying the ship’s motion. Almost perfectly balanced, the Mayflower II sat like a contented duck amid the uproar of the storm. After being pounded unmercifully by the waves, the ship was finally at peace. ‘I reflected that the Pilgrim Fathers, who tossed through many such a wild night in Atlantic storms, at least knew tranquility in great gales,’ Villiers wrote.”  Villiers’ comments are from “How we sailed the New Mayflower to America,” National Geographic v. 112, n. 5 (November 1957), 667.

  • 3 Oct 2020 3:14 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    A sharp change

    Equinoctial weather, followed by stormy westerly gales; “encountered many times with cross winds and continued fierce storms with which the Ship was shrewdly [in its original meaning of “sharply” or “severely”] shaken and her upper works made very leaky; and one of the main beams in the midships was bowed and cracked.”  Some of the crew feared that the ship would not be able to complete the voyage.  Bradford wrote, “The chief of the company perceiving the mariners to fear the sufficiency of the ship (as appeared by their mutterings) they entered into serious consultation with the Master and other officers of the ship, to consider, in time, of the danger, and rather to return than to cast themselves into a desperate and inevitable peril.  There was great distraction and difference of opinion amongst the mariners themselves. Fain would they do what would be done for their wages’ sake, being now near half the seas over; on the other hand, they were loath to hazard their lives too desperately.”  After breaking open the hold and examining the hull by candlelight, “the Master and others affirmed they knew the ship to be strong and firm under water, and for the buckling bending or bowing of the main beam, there was a great iron scrue the passengers brought out of Holland which would raise the beam into its place.  The which being done, the carpenter and Master affirmed that a post put under it, set firm in the lower deck, and otherwise bound, would make it sufficient.  As for the decks and upper works, they would caulk them as well as they could; and though with the working of the ship they would not long keep staunch [meaning “watertight”], yet there would otherwise be no great danger if they did not overpress her with sails.  So they resolved to proceed.”  While there were much later (early twentieth century) stories that the “great iron scrue” was in fact part of a printing press that the Pilgrims were bringing to America, Jeremy Bangs has shown that it was probably a house jack used by carpenters for construction (Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners: Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation [Plymouth, MA: GSMD, 2009] 608-610).

  • 2 Oct 2020 2:38 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    First Death

    Bradford continued his story of the “proud and very profane young” seaman: “But it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard.  Thus his curses light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the just hand of God upon him.”   We can readily imagine the effect of this first burial at sea on the Mayflower.  There does not appear to have been any funeral ceremony, since the crew lacked a chaplain and the Pilgrims viewed funeral ceremonies and prayers for the dead as worthless remnants of Papism: the comments of Separatist ministers upon the death of Elizabeth I are somewhat shocking to modern ears in their rejection of prayers for the dead.  William Elliott Griffis (The Pilgrims in Their Three Homes [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1900] 176) says “the Puritans cared next to nothing about ceremonies over a corpse, whether at wave or grave.”  The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) stated, “Prayer is to be made for things lawful; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter: but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death” (XXI.IV, citing II Sam 12:21-23 with Luke 16:25-26; Rev. 14:13).  Bradford’s phraseology in this case would seem to support the absence of any funeral service, as he speaks of the body as simply “thrown overboard.”  He viewed this death as a “special work of God’s providence,” giving assurance to the passengers that God was taking particular care of them in a memorable and unusual way.  Today’s death, of a crew member, was the first of many on this journey.

  • 1 Oct 2020 3:14 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Relations with the Crew (continued)

    William Bradford wrote, “And I may not omit here a special work of God's providence. There was a proud and very profane young man, one of the seamen, of a lusty, able body, which made him the more haughty; he would alway be contemning the poor people in their sickness and cursing them daily with grievous execrations; and did not let [i.e., refrain] to tell them that he hoped to help to cast half of them overboard before they came to their journey's end, and to make merry with what they had; and if he were by any gently reproved, he would curse and swear most bitterly.”  But just wait until tomorrow.

  • 30 Sep 2020 3:18 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Relations with the Crew

    There were daily prayer services each morning, led by Elder William Brewster, the spiritual leader of the group.  These consisted principally in singing psalms and reading Scripture.  Given the cramped accommodations on the ship, these services took place on deck when the weather was good, but wherever they could when the weather was bad.  These services were crucial to the maintenance of morale among the passengers during very difficult times.  During this time, the crew had to continue with their duties as usual, and this caused a significant amount of friction during the journey.  While most of the passengers were extreme Protestants of various descriptions, the stories of the hostility during the voyage between passengers and crew suggest that very few of the crew were likeminded -- and the crew, apparently, were not at all shy about displaying this difference in religious attitude to the passengers.

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